By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin April 2, 2010 at 4:00AM
For a variety of reasons, I had low expectations for this fantasy-action yarn—and even lower expectations for its 3-D presentation, as I learned that the process was layered onto the movie after the fact. As it turns out, the film was better than I expected, while the 3-D was even worse. The glasses I wore at the official Warner Bros. press screening were heavy and cumbersome, and what I saw onscreen—dimensionally speaking—wasn’t worth the bother. This cheapjack approach could kill off audiences’ desire to see 3-D movies, and certainly may—
—dampen their willingness to shell out additional money for the privilege.
Of the movie, at least it can be said that no one was tampering with a classic. The 1981 original was the last of Ray Harryhausen’s big-screen productions, and while his stop-motion work was great, the film itself left a lot to be desired, in spite of a formidable cast, led by Laurence Olivier, no less, as Zeus. (Harryhausen didn’t write or direct his movies, although he was often their guiding spirit.)
The new version, directed by Louis Letterier, and written by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, introduces some new concepts and characters while essentially following the original screenplay. One of the film’s chief virtues is Sam Worthington, who has real screen presence, and the physicality required of an action hero like Perseus. He’s a big reason this Clash succeeds as well as it does. The film sets up his central conflict—he’s a “demigod” who rejects his Olympian heritage—quite well, and introduces a character named Io who is more-or-less his guardian angel. As she is played by the angelic-looking Gemma Arterton (best-known to Americans as Strawberry Fields in the last James Bond outing) this is another of the movie’s major assets, at least in my eyes.
Other key roles are filled by an international cast, including Liam Neeson, who (curiously) lacks the towering bravado I associate with the character of Zeus, Ralph Fiennes, who’s eerily effective as Hades, King of the Underworld, and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (who made a strong impression as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) as the brawny Draco. Ruddy-faced Pete Postlethwaite sets the film on course in its prologue as Perseus’ human father, a fisherman, and it’s nice to see Elizabeth McGovern, even briefly, as his mother.
The meat of the picture lies in its action scenes and visual effects, and these are first-rate, for the most part, though I must confess I wish I’d seen them in a good, bright 2-D print instead of the murky version I suffered through. The CGI updates of Harryhausen’s crab monsters and the deadly Medusa are very good indeed, and don’t need the so-called enhancement of 3-D.
Clash of the Titans has a vigorous and spectacular story to tell. The film has its lulls, and cheesy moments, but for the most part it’s entertaining. I’d encourage anyone who wants to see it to select 2-D for a better experience than Warner Bros.’ “2½-D” has to offer. You’ll save a few dollars in the bargain.